College of So. Md. graduates largest class
Nearly 900 degrees and certificates awarded at spring commencement
It was a bright sunny day Thursday as hundreds of new graduates of the College of Southern Maryland walked across the stage on the front lawn of the La Plata campus to receive their diplomas.
The college’s 57th Spring Commencement was the school’s largest graduating class ever, according to CSM President Bradley Gottfried, with 560 candidates for 882 degrees and certificates.
“All ages, so many nationalities, races, individuals who have special challenges, they come to our college because they know that we can help them to be successful,” Gottfried said.
The oldest graduate was Shirley Jasper, 63, of White Plains. Jasper attended college after high school, but left due to financial reasons. She attended college off and on and came to CSM in 1997.
“I started going to school here, but I dropped out because I couldn’t afford it,” Jasper said.
Jasper said that after she was laid off during the recession in 2008, she learned of the 2009 stimulus bill providing retraining for those laid off and returned to CSM in 2011.
“I was like, ‘I’m taking advantage of that’, because I’m not one to sit home on the couch; I’m a worker. So I came back here and I never looked back,” Jasper said.
She said she enjoyed taking classes with students, even those much younger than herself.
“I liked going to school with younger people, they made me feel youthful,” Jasper said.
Jasper is planning on attending the University of Maryland University College and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in human resources.
Samuel Peter, 17, is CSM’s youngest graduate. The Cobb Island teenager was homeschooled and began taking classes at CSM as a dual enrolled student at age 13, completing his first year of college by the time he finished his high school studies.
Peter said taking college classes at such a young age really helped him to mature.
“I was really young, and it was kind of difficult, because I was just coming out of my childhood, and I was forced to grow up,” Peter said.
Peter said he is planning on transferring to St. Mary’s College of Maryland and majoring in political science, perhaps with a minor in criminology.
Navy veteran Kara Merritt of Lexington Park attended CSM after completing a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy. Merritt said she always wanted to be a nurse, and CSM’s nursing program felt right at home to her, Merritt said.
“For me, it felt like an easy transition, because the nursing program was much like the military; you still have a uniform, you have to be proper, you still can’t have your nails done,” Merritt said.
Merritt said she hopes to find work as a nurse at a Veterans Administration hospital.
When Tabish Nawaz of Waldorf first came to the U.S. from Pakistan, he spoke no English, he said. He graduated near the top of his class at Westlake High School, and now is graduating with highest honors at CSM. He and his sister Bushwa are the first in their families to attend college, he said.
“I’m going to the University of Maryland College Park, studying the biological sciences, and get a bachelor’s degree from there, then move on to Johns Hopkins,” Nawaz said. “My career goal is to become a cardiac surgeon.”
Also graduating from CSM with highest honors was James Walls of Hughesville. Walls, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 9, is planning on attending the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the fall and changing his major from English to computer science.
“My end goal is to be a writer, but I can do that without being an English major, and being an English major doesn’t help pay the bills,” Walls said.
Kierston Hill of Prince Frederick is the first graduate from CSM’s Presidential Scholars program. Presidential Scholars is a new program in Calvert County allowing students in the top 10 percent of their high school class to receive a full scholarship at CSM and participate in advanced learning activities.
Hill was dual enrolled at CSM while also finishing her studies at Calvert High School.
“It wasn’t that challenging, but I found it to be a very maturing experience because I had to manage my time very carefully, so I learned a lot about what it takes to be in college, and the difference between college and high school, so there was a lot of personal growth,” Hill said.
Hill said she is planning on transferring to the University of Maryland College Park in the fall and majoring in psychology and counseling.
The student representative speaker was James Edward Bowie, 33, of Hughesville. Bowie said he dropped out of college in his sophomore year to join his father in starting a new business. That business collapsed following the Great Recession of 2008. Bowie said he found work on a golf course and as a restaurant server.
“At this time I was approaching 30 and I started to realize that I need to find a career with a future and earning potential,” Bowie said.
Bowie, who majored in engineering, urged his fellow graduates to continue to be problem solvers and innovators.
“We need to constantly look to the future;, and constantly look for new and better ways to do our jobs and constantly pursue our education,” Bowie said.
The keynote address was given by J. Blacklock Wills Jr., chairman and CEO of The Wills Group Inc. Wills urged graduates to prepare for a world of constant change.
“Individual skills development is key in today’s business climate, and if you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind” Wills said.
A College of Southern Maryland graduate wears a cap decorated with the phrase “Who’s hiring” during spring commencement ceremonies held last Thursday.